Remembering Barbara Brenner’s Remarkable Life
The mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you ever said was ‘thank you,’ that would be enough.
My name is Heather Sawitsky. I have known Barbara Brenner since college, and I am here to give thanks for the wonderful force of nature that was Barbara Brenner. I too became an attorney, with a focus on public health issues, and it has been my great pleasure to have had ongoing and spirited dialogues with Barb on many health issues important to both of us.
Barbara leaves a gaping hole, individually and communally. I have thought about how we will try to fill this empty space and commemorate her life. Barbara was, among other things, a teacher. Her blog sets out a road map as to how she tried, and I believe succeeded, in living a life of purpose and meaning. In her farewell blog post, she spoke of the many unique people she had the honor of knowing, and how she thought that they, we, could succeed at anything we set our hearts and minds to do. While none of us can or will replace her, we can honor her by proving her right, once more, by rededicating ourselves to the things we most wish to achieve.
People who met Barbara in more recent years may be daunted by her accomplishments, and intentionally or unconsciously consider themselves without the same potential that Barbara had. Since I have known her for so long, I thought I should mention that Barbara did not start out as a polished advocate. Her passion often overruled her intellect. She did not pick her battles. She could be obnoxious. Her fashion tastes were borderline.
Let me give you a baseline. When I met Barbara:
She had a boyfriend in Baltimore.
She wanted to be a diplomat.
Her favorite shoes were a pair of platform saddle shoes that were atrocious even by 1972 standards.
After Smith, she went to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. There two very lucky things happened to her. Almost immediately, the Yom Kippur War broke out, driving home to Barbara (and probably everyone else at Princeton) that Barbara was no diplomat, and thus short-circuiting that misguided career.
And while she was at Princeton, she met Susie, whose intellect matched Barbara’s, and whose steadiness anchored Barbara and gave her the freedom and space to grow, to become first a lawyer, then an advocate, then an advocate who knew as much science as the researchers, and then an advocate who became a master of social media. A person who changed the conversation, and made a difference.
I would like to end with a poem by Merritt Malloy called Epitaph.
When I die,
Give what’s left of me away
And old men who wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
And give them
What you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something,
Look for me
In the people I have known
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on your eyes
And not on your mind.
You can love me most
Hands touch hands,
Bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
That need to be free.
Love does not die,
So, when all that is left of me
Give me away.